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Lewes entrepreneur strikes a ‘Shark Tank’ deal

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Nancy Rothner, owner of Pinch Me Therapy Dough, pitches her product to the Shark Tank judges in the March 5 episode. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ABC

LEWES – After igniting a bidding war between three of the judges on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” entrepreneur Nancy Rothner walked away with a $300,000 investment.

In the episode that premiered Friday night, Rothner struck a deal with judge Robert Herjavec, a multi-millionaire who built IT companies, for 20% of her company Pinch Me Therapy Dough – translating to a company valuation of $1.5 million.

Rothner, who worked for five years as a stockbroker, shared with the judges how she volunteered at a domestic abuse shelter and that convinced her to leave her career to become a therapist. It was through that experience that she developed the therapy dough, which is a mixture with a consistency between Play-Doh and Silly Putty with added essential oils and fragrance to help soothe anxiety and stress.

The therapy dough costs $4.50 to manufacture the smallest size that retails for $14.99, while the larger size costs $7.50 per unit and retails for $24.99, Rothner told the judges. She impressed them all when she reported sales of more than $5.3 million in less than five years, growing from $200,000 in the first year to $1.95 million in 2019.

She was on track for $2.5 million in sales in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but still managed to move about half of that target despite the impact on the boutique retailers she depends on.

In 2019, the company reportedly had profits of $584,000 after paying out Rothner’s cut, drawing another round of praise from the show’s judges.

While judges Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner and Daymond John all passed on the opportunity to invest in Pinch Me, Herjavec and fellow judge Kevin O’Leary both offered $300,000 for a 25% stake in the company. Rothner tried her best to move the pair lower to her initial ask of 7%, even countering with 10%, but found limited interest.

“I think if you had more of an e-commerce strategy, I would have a little more wiggle room because I think it’s going to be a lot of work,” O’Leary told her in a common refrain from the judges.

In a bit of Hollywood drama, John jumped into the bidding at 20% and Herjavec followed. Despite some attempt by Rothner to persuade the judges to come down “a smidgeon” to 17%, they held firm. Ultimately, she decided to take Herjavec’s offer.

“Before I walked in, Robert was the one I want to work with,” she told the show after the pitch ended. “I feel he’s so worth it, so I’m thrilled to be working with him.”

She wasn’t alone in that belief, as Cuban told his colleague Herjavec that he also got a good deal with Pinch Me.

“That’s a rock star partner, Robert,” he said of Rothner.

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Original story:

LEWES – Entrepreneur Nancy Rothner was finding success selling her stress-relieving product through boutique retailers nationwide before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, closing many of her partner storefronts and decimating small business sales.

As she thought about how to get her product Pinch Me Therapy Dough in front of consumers now largely shopping from home, she returned to an idea she had long considered: applying for ABC’s “Shark Tank” pitch competition show.

“From the very first person who met me, I’ve heard it countless times, ‘Oh, you ought to be on ‘Shark Tank’,’” Rothner recalled, noting that she just never felt ready to complete its thorough application process.  “I needed to do more before I felt ready to apply. But once COVID hit, I thought, ‘Well, the timing is definitely right.’”

Rothner is not able to disclose much about her experience on the show before it airs tonight at 8 p.m. She did say that she taped the episode back in September, but hadn’t heard anything from the show’s producers about whether her segment would make the final cut until a few weeks ago.

She said that she didn’t approach the competition with any one particular Shark in mind, as some entrepreneurs do.

Nancy Rothner, owner of Pinch Me Therapy Dough, said that she went into the Shark Tank pitch just looking to present her product well and hoping to find a connection with any judge. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ABC

“There were some that I felt might be a little bit more inclined, but I just wanted to go in and do the best job I could,” she said, noting it was the first time she’s ever had to pitch her 5-year-old business to potential investors.

Rothner, who moved to Lewes in 2005, has worked in holistic wellness as a clinical hypnotherapist for 20 years, and witnessed the stress that many clients carry. She also began noticing more reports about the increasing levels of reported stress in America, which convinced her to look into opportunities to help.

“The inspiration behind Pinch Me was really weaving together what I found to be the most effective components for my clients,” she said.

The therapy dough is a consistency somewhere between Play-Doh and Silly Putty – a custom, non-toxic mixture that Rothner developed over years of at-home trial and error.

“I literally did thousands of test batches. It was anything but an easy process, but eventually I felt I got it right,” she said.

Pinch Me is also mixed with fragrances and essential oils, meant to connect with several of a consumer’s senses to put them at ease. Rothner currently offers 11 different scents meant to connect with a particular consumer.

Pinch Me Therapy Dough has a consistency between Play-Doh and Silly Putty, according to its creator Nancy Rothner. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ABC

“Even though lavender is supposed to be calming and many people love the scent of lavender, if someone does not care for the scent, it’s not going to be able to be calming or soothing for them,” she said. “There’s going to be far more benefit in massaging Pinch Me than squeezing a rubber ball

Rothner has built out her business primarily through connecting with Main Street-type retailers at national trade shows. It eventually became her full-time job and growth was steady, until 2020 brought the pandemic.

“All of my sales came from going out to exhibit, so then, in a blink of an eye, all of that was erased,” she said.

With exposure on national TV on the table now though, Rothner said that she expected to answer emails and phone calls through the weekend – a typical reaction for many of the Shark Tank competitors.

Pinch Me joins a small number of Delaware businesses to make the reality competition show, including Bridgeville’s Frozen Farmer and New Castle’s NERDiT NOW in the past two years. The Frozen Farmer struck a $125,000 deal with judge Lori Greiner for 30% of the company in a 2020 episode.

Editor’s note: This update originally reported the figures that Rothner told judges as unit sales, but they were actually sale dollars. We regret the error. 

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